remembering: first impressions of marrakech

Before visiting Bahia Palace, our driver dropped us off along Avenue Mohammed V in front of Koutoubia Mosque, the largest mosque in Marrakech, near the famous square Jemaa el-Fna.

I remember the sound of the call to prayer over the loudspeaker, the muezzin drawing out words from the Quran, his voice undulating  “Ashhadu an la ilaha illa Allah,” and the prophet’s name, Mohammed, floating over the airwaves like heat rising off of hot asphalt. I remember craning my neck to see the 77m minaret tower, with its spire and orbs. I remember the ornamentation, the curved and decorative windows and arches, the band of ceramic inlay and pointed merlons.   I remember our guide telling us the mosque was completed under the reign of the Berber Almohad Caliph, Yaqub al-Mansur (1184-1199). Strolling around the large plaza, I remember the sound of palm fronds rustling in the breeze, the sweet smell of flowers, the rustle of papers from a man reading on a bench.

I remember the roaring buses, the sight of a bright red double-decker Marrakech bus turistique,  the clop-clop of horses pulling tourists in green carriages, and the clatter of purposeful donkeys pulling carts laden with bulging bundles, the driver in his djellaba clicking his tongue to hurry them along.  I remember the babel of languages — Arabic, French, English and other tongues unable to be discerned from the river of voices.


Koutoubia Mosque

Walking through the streets of Marrakech to the Bahia Palace, I remember the sounds of women wearing djellaba and hijab, speaking Arabic to their friends “Salaam u alaykum” and “wa alaykum asalaam.”  “Shukran, shukran.” I remember the peach-washed walls and the balconies in the mellah. I remember the smell of chicken, olives and lemons, and the hiss of boiling olive oil from tajines in hole-in-the-wall restaurants.

Wandering through the souqs, I remember cloaked women humming past on bicycles, the puttering of motorbikes and the roar of larger motorcycles as drivers weaved their way among the tourists and locals, who themselves engaged in spirited bargaining.  I remember walking through warm strips of sunlight seeping in through the bamboo roof of the souq. I remember the aroma of dried rose petals, bark and leaves, the smell of spices piled high in bright orange and yellow and red pyramids: cumin, black pepper, ginger, turmeric, saffron, paprika, cayenne, and harissa (chili). I remember the sweet enticements of dates and cinnamon.

At 3:45, we arrived at and wandered around the beautifully ornamented Bahia Palace, where we stayed until 4:50 (morocco: essaouira to marrakech’s bahia palace).

After the palace, we dove headlong into the souq, where, for rest of the evening, we wandered and shopped. I remember the scents of fresh squeezed juices: papaya, banana, orange, cucumber, and pineapple.  I remember the smell of tea brewing. I remember the clattering of a cart selling juice de gingembre, or ginger juice, and its reminiscent-of-Asia scent.  I remember the sound of haggling by people in French and Arabic, D’accord and Shukran and Merci beaucoup. I remember the way the shopkeeper said “bargain,” with a “d” sound thrown into the middle: “What a barrdgan!” I remember the colorful tajine pots, the Islamic motifs on ceramics, the Fez hats, the cashmere scarves, the Berber rugs, the brass lamps lit behind purple and pink glass, the slippers in aquamarine, coral, orange, red, and purple.  I remember the rough texture of the straw bags with their soft fuzzy pompoms in lime greens and cantaloupe colors. I remember the metal insects pinned to a board, the prisms of light from the brass lamps, the colorful patchwork of leather bags, the paintings of camel races and ancient scenes from a bygone Morocco.

At Jemaa el-Fnaa, the giant plaza in the middle of the medina, I remember the green tarps of the food stands, hundreds of them, where hustling young men grilled their meat, fish and vegetables, smoke rising into the air. I remember the wistful flutes of the snake charmers, the African drums beating a steady rhythm, the young men pushing menus from their food stands into our faces. I remember the jangle of tambourines and men in djellabas playing card games on tiny tables. I remember the coo roo-c’too-coo from pigeons and the twitters and flapping wings of white-rumped swifts and turtledoves.  I remember the taste of a delicious pastilla, a savory meat pie, and fresh squeezed mango juice. I remember the long walk back to our hotel, passing a storefront with prickly cacti in every shape and color standing sentry on the sidewalk.


Jemaa el-Fnaa


leaving Jemaa el-Fnaa toward Koutoubia Mosque


cactus shop


cactus shop

Finally, at the end of the evening, I remember drinking mango juice through a straw out of a light-bulb shaped glass, while our friend Chai sipped on a turquoise drink suggestive of exotic isles.

*Steps: 16,948, or 7.18 miles*

*April 20, 2019*


“PROSE” INVITATION: I invite you to write up to a post on your own blog about a recently visited particular destination (not journeys in general). Concentrate on any intention you set for your prose.

It doesn’t matter whether you write fiction or non-fiction for this invitation.  You can either set your own writing intentions, or use one of the prompts I’ve listed on this page: writing prompts: prose. You can also include photos, of course.

One of my intentions for my travels in Morocco was this:  Walk through the city, town or countryside of a new place. Use all senses to write down details, then do a freewrite beginning with “I remember the sound, taste, smell of …” Use words that create sounds on the page like “smack,” “thump,” etc.

Include the link in the comments below by Monday, May 11 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this invitation on Tuesday, May 12, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!